Jury Convicts Oregon Faith Healers for 'Letting Baby Die'

Dale and Shannon Hickman, the Oregon couple who rubbed oils on their sick baby instead of seeking medical attention, will be going to jail after a Clackamas County jury this week found them guilty of second-degree manslaughter.

The case centered on the act of faith healing and parental negligence. The Hickmans’ baby, David, was born about two months premature and weighed just three pounds five ounces, according to court records. The baby developed a bacterial infection and died nine hours after delivery.

The conviction is a class B felony under state law that requires a sentence of at least six years and three months in prison under Oregon's mandatory sentencing regulations, according to state records.

However, because of a state religious exemption that was eliminated after the Hickmans were indicted, they could face no more than 18 months in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Prosecuting attorney John Wentworth told reporters that the couple, who have two other children, will be sentenced Oct. 31. Prosecutors asked that they be held in jail until sentencing, but Judge Robert Herndon allowed the couple to remain free until they go to prison.

During the trial, Dale Hickman testified that he didn't call 911 once he realized his infant son was ill "because I was praying." Shannon Hickman said that as a woman in the church, she must listen to her husband, reports the Oregon City News. "That's not my decision anyway," she testified. "I think it's God's will whatever happens."

The child was born at home, not in a hospital. Female church members, who called themselves “midwives,” were present when the infant died. Child abuse and neglect experts testified in court that home birth was a terrible choice for the safety of the baby.

The Hickmans are members of Oregon City’s Followers of Christ church, which has a long history of children dying from replacing medical care with faith healing at home, according to local news reports in Oregon.

The Oregon City News reports that medical experts for the prosecution testified that the baby had a 99 percent chance of survival if his parents had sought medical care.

"They let their baby die," Wentworth told local reporters. “Nobody lifted a finger to call 911 or sought medical care."

Holly Scholles, a licensed Estacada midwife, told local newspapers the Hickmans’ actions were “unconscionable.” Even family members of the church told prosecutors that a baby born so early is a concern.

The Hickman case will most likely be the last legal battle involving faith healing in Oregon. State records show that the Oregon Legislature passed a bill earlier this year to repeal the remaining religious exemptions for parents or guardians pertaining to medical care of sick children.

According to defense attorneys, social norms trend more to unlicensed home births in Clackamas County. Midwives without licenses oversee almost half, or 43.5 percent, of home births in the county, compared to 27.3 percent of at-home births statewide.

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